NHTSA Closes Chevy Volt Battery-Pack Fire Safety Investigation

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2011 Chevrolet Volt during IIHS crash testing

2011 Chevrolet Volt during IIHS crash testing

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Well, it's all over but the shouting now.

This afternoon, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a statement saying it had closed its investigation into the causes of a fire in the battery pack of a Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car.

The statement said the agency had concluded that "no discernible defect trend exists" and that "modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts."

It also pointedly noted that no real-world crashes have resulted in any battery pack fires in Volts, perhaps a nod to hearings next week to be chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) in which the topic is to examine the government's handling of the incident.

The title of the committee's hearing is "Volt Vehicle Fire: What did NHTSA know, and when did they know it?"

The Volt that caught fire in June had been wrecked in a NHTSA side-impact crash test, turned 360 degrees on a rotisserie, and then stored in an open yard.

Three weeks after the crash test, the car caught fire. In subsequent lab tests designed to replicate the incident, another pack caught fire and a second emitted sparks.

GM engineer fits structural reinforcement to distribute crash energy away from Chevy Volt battery.

GM engineer fits structural reinforcement to distribute crash energy away from Chevy Volt battery.

Enlarge Photo

The agency opened an investigation into the causes in November, working closely with General Motors engineers.

Last week, GM announced that it would offer upgrades to Volt owners that would reinforce the crash structure around the pack, along with replacing the coolant filler to prevent over-filling.

Those repairs will begin in February, and the modifications are already incorporated into all Volts assembled this year at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

The NHTSA statement notes that it has developed procedures for de-energizing the battery pack of a wrecked electric car, working with emergency responders and other safety agencies.

GM acknowledged that it had not fully developed and distributed such procedures at the time of the June fire. It has since done so, the company says.

Just as gasoline is drained from a wrecked car after it has been towed to a garage or yard, the battery pack of a wrecked plug-in vehicle must similarly have its energy drained.

The agency's statement also notes that, "NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers."


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Comments (10)
  1. Nice. Time to move on.

  2. I agree, John, but I'm still not going to buy a Volt. GM seems to like taking too many short-cuts when it comes to safety and then justifying their shortfalls by making themselves look like the victim of big government, rules and regulations. It is kinda hard to justify away the fact that other hybrids and electrics does not have the same problem GM is trying to justify away. And it seems that GM does not have the best engineers in the world as they claim, it they did they would not be having this problem now.

  3. @James: I probably shouldn't be drawn into this debate, but please explain your claim that GM is "justifying their shortfalls by making themselves look like the victim of big government, rules and regulations".

    Examples, please? I can think of many, many grounds on which to criticize GM, but since the U.S. government still owns a substantial portion of the company, it has seems largely to have refrained from complaints about Federal regulation.

    So what are you referring to?

  4. John, the GOP owns GM and the GOP speaks for GM. The GOP always complains about too many regulations placed on companies like GM by the government. The GOP wants to deregulate companies like GM in the ploy that it creates jobs and if that happens, problems like GM has would never be known by the public. Just listen to the GOP debates and listen to the head of the Oversight Committee on the 25, which will be ran by the GOP.

  5. I have spent my life doing engineering and if this is the biggest problem that GM has, I would say they have done an excellent job.

    Further, GM deserves credit for bringing a third technology to the market place with the E-REV concept (the other two being Prius-type hybrids and BEV). Whether or not the E-REV concept ultimately succeeds, GM has made a more than credible effort to put the technology forward.

    The Plug-in Prius looks to be a very "compromised" vehicle compared to the Volt with regards to EV-only range. However, the plug-in Prius seems headed for a much lower point than the E-REVs on a forward looking basis. For me, it is great to see the two ideas competing in the marketplace.

  6. The Volt is a game changer. The first of it’s kind, and an inspiration to all other auto manufacturers (except Chrysler, ho hum).

  7. The GM EV1 was a game changer. The Volt is just a decent plugin hybrid.


  8. are you spacing out?

  9. I hear you brother. The EV1's efficiency is, as yet, unmatched. But the 2-seat game has been played out in the market place and seems to be a loser.

    That said, a modern, high efficiency 2 seater EV would work well for me in my daily commute.

  10. Has there ever been a more hyped product anywhere than the EV1? Cost $85k to make, horrendous range and no customers to buy it at even a moderate loss. But keep the myth going... Neil, you obviously know that the EV1 was a market failure and was way before its time, but was that GM's fault? How long exactly should GM have continued to lose money in a market that wasn't ready for EVs yet? When others crush or collect their EVs from customers, just like GM did, will you criticize those OEMs the same way as so many criticize GM?

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